Ryonet Blog

CMYK vs. Spot Color vs. Simulated Process Printing

process printing

Okay, so you’ve heard their names, CMYK Process, Spot Color, and Simulated (Spot) Process, but what are they?  What sets them apart from one another and what is the best use for each?  Let’s go through them, one by one!

CMYK Process (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black)

What is it?

CMYK is the oldest halftone print reproduction method. Using cyan, magenta, yellow and black water-based ink screen printers can print digital designs on white or light garments. For users that are very schooled with CMYK file preparation, Photoshop, and screen making, this is still a viable print process. This method has become less frequently used daily by the majority of screen printers.

Pros:

  • Water and oil based inks
  • Soft hand feel
  • Wet on wet

Cons:

  • Difficult to prepare graphics for output
  • Very limited (white colored garments)
  • Requires advanced screen mesh and printing technique
  • Poor color values, limited to CMYK color gamut

Suggested Tools:

  • Photoshop, Corel Draw, Illustrator, etc
  • Rip software for the film output to create halftones

Spot Color

What is it?

Spot color designs are usually created through the use of vector graphics programs such as CorelDRAW and Adobe Illustrator. There are many programs that can create spot colors. Spot colors (such as Pantone or custom mixed) can be printed as solid shapes at 100% tint or halftones by changing their tint value away from 100%. This is the most common print process in the industry, and has sometimes been called the screen printers best friend. Knowledge of creating, applying and handling spot colors is essential to any screen printer. Logos, text, cartoons, line art, and more are all styles spot colors excel at reproducing.

Pros:

  • Vivid color values
  • Excellent user color control
  • Clean edges

Cons:

  • Very limited range of graphic styles: Limited to vector illustrations (logo/graphic, not photographic)
  • Manual User File preparation (under-basing, choking, spreading)

Suggested Tools:

  • RIP Software
  • Vector Art Content
  • Design Software

Spot Process (a.k.a Sim Process)

What is it?

When an image is not reproducible using basic spot color methods in a graphics vector program, is a Photograph, complex tonal illustration, scanned image or any style of complex halftone tonal image that will be printed on either dark or light colors garments including white using halftones then Spot Process is the print method of choice. Since the early 1990’s Spot Process has been widely accepted and replacing the need for CMYK leaving the screen print with just two disciplines of printing needed to run a successful print shop. Now all a printer needs to do is educate them selves and gain skills handling these to methods of reproduction and they have all they need to run their print business.

Spot Process is much more file prep/computer and press friendly than CMYK making the ability to print high end images well within reach. Available at low cost supported and trained almost everywhere you look this style of printing is not only easy enough to learn, but fun to work with.

Pros:

  • High-end, digital graphics
  • Detail capture
  • Flexibility: Print on any color of garment
  • Fast printing times: One flash (dark garments) then wet on wet for remaining colors. Wet on wet for white and very light garments.
  • Vivid expanded color values based on RGB spectrum
  • Greatly expands the users ability to service client needs
  • Works with water, oil, PVC free, discharge and plastisol style inks
  • Soft hand

Cons:

  • Not really a con, but like anything else it requires a users training to learn the proper handling of the print system to get the best results. Training readily available.
  • Not well suited for controlling vector style color graphics.

Suggested Tools:

  • Color Separation Software, Separation Studio
  • RIP Software & Film Output Systems
  • Ink Kit
  • Screens

Screen printing is a multi-faceted creature, with many different ways to make a shirt.  Methods like CMYK have largely gone out to pasture, but every screen printer should have Spot Process and Spot Color in their bag of tricks.  With the two main types of process printing mastered, you’ll soon find that your screen printing horizons have broadened considerably.

Kaitlyn Ingram

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